This week’s readings offered a lot of information regarding virtual cultures, how they are cultivated, how they vary by context, and how they can be designed to promote specific outcomes. In T,L Taylor’s article, Finding New Worlds, he discussed his firsthand experience at an EverQuest Convention, where he came to understand how it’s online culture can be translated into physical, tangible interactions. Taylor’s article also indicates how the structure of the virtual community can influence its own cultural development. In the case of EverQuest, he explains, “EQ players do not play in one world but are scattered amongst duplicate versions of the game that reside on separate servers… each of which has its own name and often develops its own culture.” The EQ players then are categorized at the convention by their server name. Taylor recalls that this server identification shared by one another “becomes a shared identity and easy point of connection” when socializing at the convention. This is one way the limitations of the virtual environment influences its culture. Because these online communities are so massive, the organization of interactions seen online affects the social interactions, both virtually and physically. At the EQ Convention, server identities were the driving factor in social interactions, and Taylor explains that most conversation revolved around the game itself. Contrarily, in contexts like SecondLife, there is very little structure and users are free to navigate the entirety of the virtual “world.” The users don’t identify with a specific server, but create culture through the interactions they share online, how they dress, and where they spend their time; specifically, as we learned last week, avatars are important factors in self representations and interactions in SecondLife. The versatility and opportunity SecondLife offers in creating both your own avatar, and in manipulating the environment has led to the development of countless sub cultures which you can see when exploring the different worlds.
User participation is a fundamental factor in every virtual context, and makes the development of virtual cultures possible. In his article, Jenkins helps to identify the factors which contributed to the development and popularity of online experiences. Specifically, he classifies our generation to be a new participatory culture, both online and off, and expands three trends that contribute to how it came to be. Jenkins attributes new technological development, the economic climate favoring the integration of media conglomerates, and a range of subcultures promoting media production, to be the primary contributions to the creation of our participatory culture; he describes how they have altered the ways we consumer media, and interact with each other and our environment. I think the fact the media consumers hold power and agency by being an interactive audience is what links these three articles together, as well as provides context moving forward in this class.
In order to develop our own personal virtual identity, as well as virtual cultures, it is important to understand that we are participants, and are actively interacting with, and creating the culture around us. Lastly Robert Bloomfield takes us a step further, explaining how virtual worlds can be utilized for business education and research by harnessing specific cultural systems and structures found in both MMOGs and SecondLife. By structuring the virtual environment (by giving and withholding specific options and capabilities) and by providing tasks that motivate a specific outcome, it is possible to make virtual environments a powerful tool in unification and education, or whatever it is is the designers objective. Below is a political cartoon about media consumption. I feel this correlates strongly to what these articles have brought to my attention: We can either let the media manipulate us, or we can be proactive in how we utilize new technology. Many people identify only with tangible world, and primary rely on the media that’s placed in front of us (like the guy down below). Only a fraction of our population are actively participating in the virtual worlds and are even aware of the subcultures they possess. Much like the development of online zines in the 70s, (which orchestrated its fair share of cultural movements), I feel that virtual realities/environments have the potential to drive cultural revolutions, it simply depends on how proactive we are as users.
image credit: https://movingimages.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/media-spoonfeeding-cartoon.jpg